Presentation Tips for Girls

I’ve been asked about my experiences presenting as a girl, and what advice I would give to other women presenters. Here goes; you may not like all or any of what I’ve got to say however, and please do feel free to comment at the end of the blog. I would be interested to hear your opinions.
The audience should remember what you said, not what you wore
Jeff Porro of the Washington Business Journal notes that, when Hillary Clinton wore a coral jacket to one of the early Presidential speeches, next day’s press talked about her jacket rather than her message. Unfortunately, as a woman, what you wear matters; it’s not right that it does, but it does matter. Believe me, I’m no expert on fashion and it’s risable that I tell people what to wear. I can only tell you what I do, which is to stick to plain clothes and cover up so that the audience are not distracted by anything else.
Marilyn Monroe used to do a quick ‘spin’ in the mirror before leaving, dressed up, to go out to a big event. If a brooch or hairclip was more obvious than her dress, then she removed it on the grounds of that it was distracting. I think this is a good idea. She was a more clever woman than people gave her credit for, although the focus is usually on her appearance. 
The audience should remember what you said, not what you didn’t wear
I realise that there is the ‘Spice Girl’ school of thought, which is that a woman can dress in revealing clothes if she wants to do that, and it’s nobody’s business but hers. I think that’s fair enough if we lived in an academic world where people stuck to high principles. However, we live in a real world with real people, where clarity and meaning are not guaranteed (but it doesn’t stop us from looking for it). So, how do we find a way forward?
However, in a business or technical environment, I don’t think it’s appropriate, and it’s a complex issue. Some people can see it as an unfair advantage if a woman is wearing something revealing and gets attention for it, and this can cause some resentment. In my own opinion, I don’t think that dressing in a revealing way is a way of building credibility in the long-term. It does not matter if it is right or not that this is the case; this is just living in the real world. 
When you’re presenting, if you wear a low-cut top and you’re leaning over a laptop, the people in the front row will get a good look at your belly button; not perhaps the best way to build any credibility! If in doubt, it’s best to cover up. People’s memories of presentations are quite limited in terms of what they take away from the session. So, if you distract them by showing a lot of flesh, then unfortunately that’s one of the things that they are more likely to remember, rather than some detail of the finely-prepared presentation that you’ve been working on for months.
Rule of Three
The rule of three probably applies: so you are so inclined, you can choose one of the following:
(a) wear a mini skirt 
(b) wear a push up bra or 
(c) wear stiletto high heels.  
If you’re lucky, you might get away with two of the above items. However, in my opinion, you are unlikely to get away with all three.
I don’t bother with any of the above; I’m not comfortable with it, so I don’t do it. This is just my opinion and you are welcome to differ with me; your choice!
Practical Elements: wear a bra!
If you’re being recorded, then you will need to place your microphone under your clothing and clip the microphone to something. A bra is ideal for this. Ideally, leave some time to prepare to do this beforehand, and a place to undress so you can put the microphone on with some privacy. I’ve had adventures with this previously, which I’m still mortified about, and won’t confess here!
There are probably other things, but there’s some food for thought for now.

One thought on “Presentation Tips for Girls

  1. Great post!

    This reminds me– I've been meaning to get a couple of tailored jackets for speaking. With pockets. As long as they aren't too severe and don't have padded shoulders (which make me look awful), they have a really great look.

    Plus, then I don't have to worry about whether I'm wearing a skirt or pants without pockets. I need those for business cards.

    I do wish that for conferences like SQLPASS the organizers would consider doing Speaker Buttons or pins instead of speaker shirts. I not only prefer to dress in my own style, but I could then keep more of the speaker items– I have a limited amount of space for all those shirts.

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